Few things in the deer woods are as sure as the fawn drop. It’s something literally we can count on because the gestation period of a whitetail is always about 200 days, give or take a few.
No guesswork here when we use this amazing time to backdate the prior rut, the breeding time of the whitetail during the prior hunting season.
An early fawn drop hearkens back to an early rut, that’s when we see fawns as we hunt gobblers in mid-May. Count back 200 days, it’s around Halloween.
Other years as we duel with the elusive tom, few fawns are witnessed until Memorial Day or later, traditionally the final angst-filled days of the spring turkey season for those of us still with a tag.
And that fact, the paucity of fawn sightings in late May, signifies a later rut during the previous deer season.
We are on our feet in the woods in May. But we are not the only predators.
Others make fawn survival iffy, a 50-50 chance at best, according to recent whitetail fawn survival studies.
When the little spotted bucks and does hit the ground they do it en masse for some very tactical reasons, foremost of which is to overwhelm the predators.
The theory being that if fawns were born over a long period of time, their survival, and consequently their numbers would be much more at risk than with a timed strategy of mass release. Flood the market, so to speak.
And here in the Northeast, if fawns were born too early, a cold March and April would further impact their ability to make it. And if they were born too late, (as some are) then the upcoming winter poses risks to a tiny fawn with a small frame and body mass to reach any remaining life-sustaining browse during the heart of winter and a long, cold, slow-coming spring.
As it is, according to some of the most recent whitetail fawn studies, almost half of the fawns born never make it to the point where they lose their spots.
According to a fawn survival study, published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin in 2004, predation accounts for 46.2% of the death of the fawns.
Most predation in this Pennsylvania-based research, which tracked a little over 200 radio-collared fawns, the Number One and Number Two predators, black bears and coyotes, shared the top podium.
Bears and yotes far outpaced other fawn eaters such as Red fox, Gray fox, fishers and other lethal dangers to fawns such as farming machinery and highways.
The study quotes a Pennsylvania Game Commission unpublished statement, stating that, “70% of all fawns born in Pa. within 14 days of June 1.” At first glance, it may seem like a small time window, but actually, spanning a full month from mid-May until mid-June.
And that supports the theory of early ruts and later ruts on any given year.
A more recent fawn study, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management concludes that fawns born in forests have a significantly tougher time surviving than those born near or in agricultural lands.
Fawn survival in forests is about 41% in the study, while “fawn survival increases about 5% for every 10% increase in ag land.” This conclusion makes sense because we know that bear and coyote populations are greater in the deeper forests, especially black bears.
Bears are on the move in Northeast during this time of the fawn drop, having recently come out of hibernation and finding a new again appetite for protein and use their keen sense of smell to find it.
Sow bears with their two-year-old cubs coming into season again are faced with a biological conundrum, that it’s suddenly time for the young ones to strike off on their own or risk death from amorous boars.
Precisely at this time of year during the fawn drop, these little bears find themselves on their own and they learn to hunt fawns.
And at the same time, from mid-May to mid-June as most of the year’s crop of newborn whitetails hit the ground and the young bears are on the prowl, Mr. and Mrs. Coyote have a den full of hungry pups to feed, having mated in February and with a 60-day gestation period have many empty stomachs to fill in mid-May.
Though the fawn drop is a rut backdating certainty, any particular newborn fawn’s survivability sure is in doubt.
Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.